Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Political personal foul

There's always a lot of controversy regarding sports and politics. It's coming up a lot right now in relation to the Olympics.

There is a certain faction that feels that the Games should just be about the athletes, and that the Olympics is not the venue for politics and political protest.

Unfortunately, that should be the case in sports as a whole, but let's face it...politics and sport have always been intertwined, and not just in as much as the Kennedy family's joy in playing touch football on the East Lawn.

Whether meant to be or not, Jackie Robinson's rookie year in Major League Baseball was as much political statement as it was an opportunity for a talented ball-player.

In 1965 the American Football League pulled their All-Star Game out of New Orleans when the black players were treated poorly by local businesses, including the hotels in the Crescent City.

The NFL had to make decisions on whether to play their scheduled slate on Sundays based on national tragedies - the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They have made security decisions based on the invasion of Iraq in 1990. They have combined teams (The Eagles and Steelers in the 1940's) to keep the league playing games at a time of war.

All of these decisions were influenced by the politics of the times.

There was even, in the NFL, a controversy in hair in the late 1960's when Joe Namath came into the league. He represented young, rebellious America during a time of civil unrest in America, while Baltimore's Johnny Unitas represented the old guard.

But the Olympics are different.

The Olympics have always been political because governments have always been involved. Governments sponsor teams, they compete to host the event, and even when watched, it is about us against them. It's about which country can win the most. It is not about, what the Olympic Committee wants you to believe, some higher ideal of competition or cooperation.

The so-called Olympic ideal is a myth. It's not about a level playing field and the best athletes in the world. Were it about a higher ideal, no country would be awarded the games. We all engage in human rights violations - China (Tibet), the United States (Guantanamo Bay, and, historically, civil rights issues with just about every minority in this country...the most glaring in the last century being the last time we engaged in internment camps for the Japanese, not unlike Gitmo for the Muslims, during World War II), England (over the last 40 years in Northern Ireland), and the list goes on.

It has always been about politics, whether world, national, or individual.

Just a sampling of what the history of the Olympic games has indeed been in the regards to politics...

In 1916 the Olympics, to be held in Berlin, Germany, were canceled due to World War I. Twenty years later Berlin hosted the Olympics again, Adolf Hitler seeing the event as an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan further his political agenda in the world arena.

At Mexico City in 1968 two American sprinters were expelled from the games for, as the IOC stated, "The basic principle of the Olympic Games is that politics plays no part whatsoever in them. U.S. athletes violated this universally accepted principle . . . to advertise domestic political views." The two runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were expelled for demonstrating their support for the Civil Rights movement in the United States by giving the Black Power salute during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner at the time of the awards ceremony.

In 1972 there were the terrorist attacks in Munich, killing members of the Israeli team.

In 1980 the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics in reaction to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. More than 60 other countries followed suit.

In 1984 the Soviets boycotted the Los Angeles games, claiming that the US was politicizing the games, stirring up anti-Soviet propaganda and sentiment, and that the US was being cavalier in their attitudes towards providing adequate security for the Soviet athletes. In the US response to the Soviet accusations, the US spokesman took another opportunity to attack the Soviets for the invasion of Afghanistan. Practically all the Eastern Bloc countries followed suit.

There were other years that the Olympics were marred by some form of political statement, boycott, or other political issue affecting attendance or scheduling. This is just a sample, a notation that the idea that the two are separate or should be expected to be separate is ridiculous.

Should it be? Yes. The athletes who train their whole lives for these games should not have their opportunity destroyed by political issues, but don't expect it to ever be that way.

On a side note...

This is from New York Newsday about Isiah Thomas' new roll with the Kickerbockers...

Isiah no longer full-time. Walsh didn't say the reassigned Isiah Thomas was forbidden to have contact with the players next season, but it certainly sounded as if Thomas' new role involves being completely invisible. "He's not coming in every day like he used to," Walsh said, "but he is there as a resource for me."
Is it just me, or has Donnie Walsh turned Isiah Thomas into Milton Waddams from Office Space? It's just a matter of time before he's sitting at a desk in some broom closet in Madison Square Garden with a can of bug spray and his paychecks cut off.

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